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'District 13,' the French connection

Very few sequels hold my attention throughout.

"District 13:  Ultimatum" is one of them.

In French with subtitles, the follow-up to the 2006 French import  "District 13" moves the basic story along well enough.  That's a must for any successful sequel.

The real appeal, though, comes from reuniting two charismatic actors, Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle.  Chances are you've never heard of them.

Raffaelli and Belle are martial arts experts and stuntmen first and actors second.  In the "District 13" stylized action crime-thrillers, they combine all their skills in a manner that must make Jackie Chan proud and jealous at the same time.

Comedy arises out of the mayhem.  But director Patrick Alessandrin, calling the shots on his first action film, never lets it become overly silly (as Chan often did).

Elite French police officer Damien Tomasso (Raffaelli) and reformed vigilante Leito (Belle) went their separate ways at the end of the first "District 13" adventure.  The ultra-violent Paris ghetto District 13 was finally under control.  Government officials vowed to maintain the peace.

They lied.

When the sequel begins and quickly leaps a few years into the future, an unscrupulous businessman (Daniel Duval) who has the president's ear wants to destroy the walled den of killers, druggies and thieves and build a profitable towering skyscraper.   To speed things up, his goons frame ghetto residents as cop killers and even plant dope in Damien's kitchen to send him to the slammer (and presumably out of the way).

Fate throws Damien (seen first in drag) and free soul Leito together once again.  Frankly, you'll need to be a little patient at the beginning of this fast-paced actioner.  Director Alessandrin, working from a script by French filmmaker Luc Besson, gets carried away with speeding up jerky footage to set the mood of an unsettled Paris of the near-future.

The good news is that it's not necessary to have the original in your viewing past to enjoy this smorgasbord of martial arts majesty, sneering bad guys and gifted athlete-actors who perform most of their own stunts in a manner you might find quite amazing.

Raffaelli and Belle are masters of parkour, the art of basically running through objects (by finding openings others might not) rather than going around them when someone is in hot pursuit.  In fact, many credit Belle with inventing the discipline.

Outlandish and wildly paced, parkour fits perfectly into the "District 13" scenario.  Also, Raffaelli and Belle bring cool confidence to their characters; men of action but few words.  If you can conjure up a magical combination of a tough, young, tight-lipped Clint Eastwood and a young kung-fu fighting Jackie Chan, you pretty much have the picture of what transpires here.

This is a film that might not appeal to everyone.  If you thrive on inventive highly entertaining martial arts action and super-cool characters, however, look past the subtitles and pay a visit to "District 13:  Ultimatum."


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